Friday, December 08, 2006

Ken Dryden's speech

As promised, from Hansard:

Mr. Speaker, this is a difficult matter for many Canadians and many parliamentarians.

When one is a regular citizen, one has a right not to have a public opinion, to remain quiet, to say “I do not know”, to be unsure enough to decide even not to make up one's own mind, let alone influence others. As a member of Parliament, I lose that right. I have to stand and be counted because a decision must be made, yes or no, and the public has the right to know what I decide so they can decide about me.

I bring no special expertise to the issue of same sex marriage. I went to church as a child. I loved hymns and, at times, the feeling of church, the quiet and community of it, the getting dressed up, the family together and the niceness of it. I did not read the Bible except to memorize a few parts for Sunday school. I found the 10 commandments interesting for what was included and what was not. I thought the name “The Golden Rule” pushed a little hard and yet I am not sure I have heard 11 such simple, non-pushy words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, that offer a better personal or societal path to life.

Not many years ago, I decided to read the Bible from beginning to end. The experience only confirmed what I had vaguely felt for most of my life, that the Bible offered the best thinking and understandings of a time, a place and people. It reflected how people explained to themselves the world, how the world worked, how people should behave and what would happen if they did not. Much of the wisdom of the Bible has held up in different times and places for different people, but to me no wisdom is timeless. Each is challenged by a new time. Some pieces of wisdom last, some do not.

In thinking about same sex marriage, I have only the experiences of my own life to go on. I am not sure when I first heard the playground words kids used for homosexuals. It was certainly many years before I knew what they meant. The words were intended to punish, to hurt. They said, “You are weak”, “You are not a man”.

By the time I knew better what they meant, I do not think I ever believed that anyone I knew really was one. There were rumours and whispers intended to put down somebody someone wanted to put down. Somebody somewhere surely must be one, I knew, but nobody in my world. I have since come to know that kids I knew very well, kids in my own class, were gay or lesbian.

I have thought how impossibly hard it must have been for them. As teenagers, all of us had to struggle so hard to figure out what was going on in our own bodies and minds, having strange things begin to happen to us, which surely were not normal and must make us bad. What would the other kids think if they knew? What would our parents think? There must be something wrong with me, darkly, dirtily wrong, and we were the lucky ones, the ones who never had to confront the possibility that we were going in the unthinkably wrong direction. We had only to find a way to do acceptably what was acceptable.

What must it have been like for the others? How often must they have thought themselves hideous and unspeakable?

In more recent decades, I have seen what this exclusion has done to people. I have seen them forced to twist and contort themselves to hide and pretend just to get the chance to do the things they wanted to do in life, having about them one big fact that to others completely defines them.

I think now about the untold lives this has directed and shaped and the untold lives it has destroyed. This is so far from being right, it is outrageous.

I grew up knowing that marriage was something that involved a man and a women. Kids eventually seemed to be a part of marriage because that is how life worked, but they did not have to be, as many very good marriages did not produce kids. I thought marriage was something that people did when they loved one another so much that they could not stop themselves from committing to each other privately, and then in a public ceremony, vowing that they wanted to be with each other forever.

I never thought of marriage as something that could involve a man and a man or a woman and a woman. I never thought about a man and a man or a woman and a woman loving each other in a marriage way. I have thought about this question more in recent years. How do I feel? Like most people I think, not entirely comfortable.

Life is hard, even when we live on the majority side of things, of race, language, culture, religion, sexuality. Our biggest challenge as human beings is to get along, to learn about each other, to accept differences, to give the same chance to others to live their lives as we would like them to give to us and to allow others to share fully and completely in the world.

It is also hard to have to think again in a different way about something we had always experienced differently, like marriage. I think the great majority of Canadians on either side of the same sex marriage debate are not 100% sure or comfortable. That is important to know. In the midst of this often heated debate, it is hard not to be swayed, usually in the reverse direction, by the words and tone of the advocates who scream their certainty, who tell the rest of us that we must surely be stupid or at least depraved if we are not as certain as they are.

It is okay to be 60-40 or 70-30 on this. As the debate more and more attempts to polarize us, it is important to know that on one side of the question or the other, most of us have more in common than it seems. It is important to know because it will help us immensely to get along again, as we must, when all this is done.

All these decades later, with the vote ahead of me, where am I? For me, man and woman, man and man or woman and woman, marriage is for two people who love each other, who want to be with each other and who privately and publicly commit to each other. I support same sex marriage and I will vote against the government's motion.


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